Nah, not yet.

I feel like a grown-up when… I’m walking home with shopping bags, and there’s something like leeks sticking out of one of them.

I remember I’m not really when… I unpack the shopping and whoop with delight when I see the Nesquik chocolate milk powder I forgot I bought.

I feel like a grown-up when… I hear of yet another marriage or birth amongst my friends, and see Facebook status updates about children’s 6th birthdays and school runs and wedding anniversaries.

I remember I’m not really when… I watch a Disney movie with a class of 6-year-olds, and I’m the only one who cries at the end.

I feel like a grown-up when… I’m coming out of the subway on my way to meet a friend in order to “do lunch”.

I remember I’m not really when… I’m drinking cheap beer in a bar and blushing furiously while my giggling friend forces me to practise my Korean small talk/chat-up skills on her non-English-speaking, incredibly hot male colleague.

I feel like a grown-up when… I collect my bills from the mail slot and go to the bank to pay them.

I remember I’m not really when… I realise that one bill’s actually 2 weeks overdue and my gas has been cut off because I never remember to check the mail slot.

I feel like a grown-up when… I’m trying to get to the bottom of another who-hit-who-first argument between two 8-year-olds (one crying, one looking defensive and mutinous), and recalling how important it used to be to make the adults believe you didn’t start it. If only we knew that they didn’t really give a toss.

I remember I’m not really when… one of my students points out that the class should have started five minutes ago, when I’ve been too busy playing with whatever toys they’ve brought in that day to notice the time.

I feel like a grown-up when… I get called “teacher”, and children look at me as if I am the font of all knowledge.

I remember I’m not really when… I’m sitting with my Korean tutor, squirming uncomfortably as she says, “Not quite, try again…” when I’m stuttering and stammering my way through sentences like “I have a cat. She lives in my parents’ house.”.

Apparently I was trying too hard.

So, remember my special needs class, the one that was driving me nuts when I first got here?

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’re now my favourite class, but other than a small incident involving me getting punched by an over-excited 8-year-old the other week, things with them are pretty good.

Apparently, according to their Korean teacher, the problem was that I was trying to teach them English. That’s just not going to work, she explained sadly. I don’t think she was advising that I tried teaching them Japanese or something instead, so I battled on regardless, until one particularly stressful session led to me actually banging my head repeatedly and despairingly on the board, to a chorus of giggles from students who mistakenly thought I was trying to be funny.

At that point, I  stopped trying to teach them English. Instead of explaining a concept and getting them to answer questions using that concept, I just wrote up the answers and got them to copy them into their books, with a focus on good spelling and handwriting. Instead of asking them questions about a text, I simply got them to take turns reading the text aloud, over and over again, until they were familiar with most of the words.

And a remarkable thing has happened. The atmosphere in the classroom has completely changed, and we have fun together – lots of silly actions and goofing around from me, lots of giggles from them. And because they no longer see me as a heartless, confusing dictator, they want to include me in their jokes and conversations – so they make huge efforts to try to find enough English words to explain to me what’s going on in the corridor or in the playground. Their enthusiasm for their work has gone from non-existent to excited and eager – because previously, they didn’t understand what they were meant to be doing, and now it’s simple things like “read this sentence out loud” or write this answer in your book”.

But the most amazing thing of all is that by stopping all attempts to teach them English, I inadvertently stumbled upon the ideal method for teaching them English: just be their friend. I spend a lot of the class just trying to talk with them about what’s going on in their lives. When they’re playing games in the corridor between classes, I join them on the floor to ask how a new toy works, or jump out from behind a door to make them all scream and run away laughing. Then they have to figure out how to tell me about their latest toy or ask me to come and play tag with them, and they know that if they use even a word or two of English, I’ll do it.

And what has happened? A frickin’ miracle, that’s what’s happened. OK, so these kids are never going to be able to speak English. But as we repeat and repeat and repeat the reading and writing practice, things seem to be sticking with them. I’ll be about to write the answer to number 5 on the board, only to realise that a few of the children have already caught on to the pattern and just continued with the rest of the questions, answering them by themselves. I’ll tentatively make a word recognition test (spelling is too advanced!) into a game by putting on a gameshow host voice and talking into my whiteboard eraser, and discover to my astonishment that they can actually connect about half the words from the text to the meanings I give them, now that they’re motivated enough to try. I’ll pick a random word from the book and find ways to use it about a million times during one class, and be delighted when one child uses it in the right context next time he sees me in the corridor.

One little boy, without a doubt the slowest and strangest child in the class (I really do feel that he should be at a special school), has taken a real shine to me – which is kind of ironic since he’s pretty much the only one in the class who really is making no progress, thanks to spending most of his time staring out from whatever goes on in his own little world. Apparently undaunted by the fact that we can’t communicate, he now comes to my classroom every day despite the fact that I only teach his class once a week. He flings himself up on to my knee, clings to me in the corridor, and refuses to let go of me when I try to deliver him to his next class. He seems content just to sit on my lap and cuddle me in silence as I sit at my desk drinking my pre-afternoon classes coffee and making lesson plans, while all the other children run around like mad things in the corridors.

What are you saying about me? I called out to a couple of his classmates today, when I heard them chattering in the corridor – the usual indecipherable string of Korean words punctuated every so often with “Hayley Teacha”. (I think this used to be mostly insults and death threats, but now that they like me I’m no longer afraid to ask. )

Toto (really), one of the better speakers, poked his head around the door. Eric… Hayley teacha… likee.

Eric likes Hayley teacher, I corrected him. Well, good. Toto doesn’t like Hayley teacher?! I pulled a sad face.

Toto shook his head. Eric LIKEE Hayley teacha!

Andrew’s head popped round the door. Likee likee I love you! he said, before the two of them ran off giggling.

C’mon, didn’t you ever have a crush on a teacher? asked Alex, amused, as I pondered whether this was creepy. We looked at Eric, who was sitting rigidly upright, motionless and staring, on my knee, as we talked over his head in the knowledge that he understood not one word. I shrugged. Not like this!! Ah well, it’s nice to be loved, I suppose.

Alex choked on his mirth. Couldn’t you just get a cat or something?!

Hmmm…

Explaining that England and the UK are two different things: FAIL.

One of the most humbling things you will ever experience is finding that no one around you has ever even heard of your home country.

Koreans, at least the ones I’ve encountered in Daejeon, are not aware of this “Ireland” of which I speak. When I received blank looks a few times, I switched my answer to “the UK”, but this had even more unsettling results. I have since discovered that the Korean language doesn’t seem to have a word for the UK. For example, the Koreans speak “hanguk-mal” (Korean) and come from “hanguk” (Korea). I speak “yonguk-mal” (English), and I come from “yonguk” (England). This pains me somewhat.

It’s not that I have anything in particular against England, it’s just that I’ve been there all of three times in my whole life (and two of those times were simply for the purpose of changing planes) and don’t feel any affinity with it at all. For people to just wave aside my entire background and say “Ah, you’re from England!” in a “sure, well, it’s close enough!” sort of way is a little unsettling. It’s changing my nationality. It’s like telling Koreans they’re Japanese (NB – this is probably not a good idea!!).

Travelling through Europe, I did very quickly realise that my little home country, while the centre of my world for all those years, means pretty much nothing to the majority of people. Europeans and Americans (the people I most often encountered on my travels) had, of course, heard of Ireland, and knew that there was something dodgy about the top part, and doesn’t it belong to the UK or something? This limited knowledge was a shock to my system, and made me see for the first time just how huge the world is – that completely foreign cultures and totally different ways of living can be going on in countries we’re barely aware exist. It definitely humbled me and drove me to find out as much as I could about every new place I visited, read about, or heard of.

Still, at least I had that partial awareness from Americans and Europeans – although one thing that did irrationally annoy me was hearing Americans refer to a “British accent”. I could probably do a fairly accurate impression of the accent they mean – Hugh Grant, anyone? – but there’s no way I’d call that a British accent. There is no British accent! I tried to explain to a bewildered New Yorker in a pub in Poland. The Scottish are British… and let me tell you, they sound nothing like the accent you mean!

Maybe I’d call it an upper-class London accent. Even just an English accent, although that’s pushing it a bit, since there are so many of those, too. But a British accent? No. Such. Thing.

I did say that this was an irrational annoyance, and that’s because I will cheerfully admit to saying that someone has an “American accent”. :) I can identify the American twang, and while I can pick out the more obvious accents (like New York, for example, and a vague “the South”), for the most part I can’t tell them apart. I understand that it’s no different from someone talking about a British accent because they can’t identify what part of Britain it’s from… but it just does seem incredible to me that anyone could even connect a Glaswegian brogue with the accent of, say, the Queen, and say “yeah, those two are obviously from the same country, listen to the accent!”.

Anyway, I seem to have gotten sidetracked. What I was originally going to say was that Koreans, for the most part, cannot point out Ireland on a map. Fair enough… after all, it’s only recently that I learned where, well, most countries are on the map (thank you Traveller IQ Challenge!).  But if you say “in the UK”, they’ll look relieved and say “Ahhhhh! In England?”. I used to try to explain, somewhat indignantly, but it all got a bit confusing, so now I just tend to say yes.

“Ireland is in England?” Yes.

“London?” Erm… yes.

I mean, what does it really matter to them? Ireland, England, potayto, potahto.

Today, however, I attempted to break the poor geography cycle by teaching the six-year-olds all about the UK as part of the “Around the World” music class programme we’re doing for the next month. Last week was Egypt. We learned about pyramids and the Sphinx, we looked at a map, we came away with real knowledge about where Egypt is and what it’s all about. It was great.

This week is the UK. Obviously, it was an unmitigated disaster.

I zoomed in on Europe… then the UK… then England. Yonguk, I said carefully. England. Yonguk means England. England is one country in the UK.

I zoomed out again. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, I pointed out slowly. Also countries in the UK.

I pointed and circled and pointed some more. I showed photos of scenes and landmarks from around the UK. I got them to learn the names of the other countries.

UK, I chanted. UK. England plus Scotland plus Northern Ireland plus Wales. UK.

They were all looking quite agreeable, and I felt a small shiver of success. Time for some revision. Whose flag is this? I said, putting up a picture of the carefully labelled “UK FLAG”.

England! they cried excitedly. My face crumpled.

The UK, I corrected gently. What countries are in the UK?

——blank faces——-

——upsetting silence—–

Europe? ventured one kind-hearted little soul, not liking the disappointment on my face.

It was a very long and confusing day, and I had to give up.

My name is Hayley, and I am from England.

Sleeping on a train

What with the flurry of adventures and discoveries that came with my China trip, I never got around to telling you about one of the items I managed to cross off my 101 Things List. It was number 72: go on an overnight train journey.

I love trains. I’m not the biggest fan of flying, mainly because of the hassle that comes with airports and security and baggage restrictions and having to be there ages before your flight. I don’t like buses because I’m terrible at working out where I’m supposed to get out. I don’t like travelling by car unless I’m driving. But I do love trains. And train stations, for some reason. I can’t quite explain it – being in a train station just gives me a wonderful traveller buzz of excitement. Plus, you always know where you’re meant to get out, and you know that the train will stop, eliminating the whole “should I press the stop button, or do they not do that here?” dilemma.

China’s railway stations are like none I’ve ever seen before. Trains are the most popular mode of transport in the country, with Chinese people crowding into the stations every night to get on to the overnight services to various cities. Like pretty much every place I encountered during my stay, the stations are jam-packed with people and all the noise and shoving that goes along with that.

Getting a ticket can be tricky. The station in Beijing had a window with a sign saying “Ticket sales for foreign people”, but I soon discovered that that just meant that the person behind the window was able to understand and respond “no” to the question “Do you speak English?”. Never mind. Not being able to speak the same language ceased to cause me panic a very long time ago, you know. With some miming and plenty of pointing to Chinese translations of various words in my guide book, I got myself a ticket for the sleeper train to Xi’an the next night.

Riding on an overnight train is something I’ve always wanted to do. I was prepared for cockroaches and overflowing toilets and dirty sheets. I was not, however, prepared for the madness that was the train station when I arrived for my journey. For a start, security is very strict in China. You have to go through a baggage check just to get into the subway, for crying out loud! Which I must admit became very irritating after about the fourth or fifth journey in one day. And as for the train station… you can’t even get in unless you’ve bought a ticket in the separate ticket building (which you have to do a few days in advance because all the trains are usually fully booked), and you have to go through a security checkpoint no different from an airport one. Bags, metal detectors, pat-downs, the works.

Once in, you have to keep moving or you’ll just be trampled or glared at. A little frustrating when you haven’t a clue where you’re going, can’t read the signs, and just want to stop and get your bearings. But rather than being annoyed, I was thrilled by the hustle and bustle all around me. I ducked into the first space I could find, which happened to be a huge indoor market. This was a little strange to me, having never seen a market in a train station before, but it was fun to look around and stand at a cart having a quick and heavenly noodle snack before my trip.

I worked out that rather than just going to the platform as in any other train station I’ve been in, you have to instead go to a departure gate – again, just like at an airport. They even have VIP lounges and soft seat lounges and lounges for mothers with babies. Each lounge contains vast numbers of people waiting for up to 6 different trains, and you don’t get to go to your platform (via yet another ticket check and security checkpoint) until it’s announced that your train has arrived. Not that I heard any such announcement, of course, since it was all gobbledegook to me – I just wandered hopefully up to the turnstile man every five minutes until finally he nodded and let me through.

I was a little confused about where to go once on the train, as the only things I could read on my ticket were the numbers. I identified the departure time, and was assuming the other figures were the arrival time, but they turned out to be my carriage and bed numbers. No one spoke English, and the stewardess at the door just motioned me onwards, ignoring or not understanding my “where?” gesture. Not to be daunted, I just wandered cluelessly up and down the train passage until another passenger took pity on me, looked at my ticket, and showed me where I was meant to go.

I found myself in a snug little room with an electric heater branded from the renown www.smartlyheated.com online shop , four bunks, crisp white bed linen, heavy blankets, flasks of hot and cold water, and a cute little vase of flowers on a tiny bedside table. Where were my cockroaches and stains?! I decided not to protest, and settled into my bunk to watch with interest the goings-on prior to departure.

There were whistles and Chinese announcements and clinking beverage carts and also some kind of operatic music being piped through the tannoy system. I had roommates, all strangers to each other, although they made a little small talk before the train set off. I did feel a bit awkward and out of the loop, as I could only sit there and smile politely – one guy tried to include me in the conversation, but quickly and understandably gave up and ignored me when he realised that I didn’t speak the language.

When we departed, all there was to do was read or sleep. I slept. Not particularly well, right enough, but I slept. It was a strange experience, being tucked up in my bed in a room smaller than my bathroom, with three complete strangers surrounding me. The train clack-a-clacked its way through the dark countryside, and I woke up to find myself in Xi’an.

I enjoyed the experience, but I couldn’t help feeling that this was one situation where having travelling companions would have made it a lot better. Usually, I’m pretty well suited to solo travelling. I like having the freedom to go where I want, when I want – to stop and take it all in when I feel like it, or get sidetracked by something that my companions would probably hurry past, or go somewhere different at the last minute. I like not having to talk, for the most part – and when I do need company, I know that I can generally rely upon hooking up with some other solo travellers at the hostel. But being cooped up in that little room with complete strangers with whom I didn’t share a single word in common was a bit of a downer. I couldn’t help but think that it would be a whole lot of fun to have McBouncy and The Sister and Becs in there with me – sort of like a novelty sleepover. We’d play travel Scrabble or Jack Change It, talk into the night, have a few drinks, embarrass ourselves by trying to order snacks in Chinese and ending up with 10 extra pillows, throw things at the snorers. Being in there with other solo travellers who were simply making their regular familiar commute just made it seem a bit… ordinary, if you know what I mean.

Sometimes, I do wish one of my close friends would discover a love for travel, and join me on my adventures. Otherwise I’m going to have to seriously consider getting Kat the Cat shipped over here, you know. I suppose that that would at least give me an interesting gimmick for my book…

In which I explode. To be fair, it’s been at least 3 months.

I need to have a rant, do you mind?

Please note: this doesn’t change what I said in my last post, about enjoying my job and loving my life here, you understand. It just means that the communication issues and cultural differences must eventually come to a head and cause me to have a meltdown. And it turns out that sometimes I need a place where I can vent without accidentally punching my boss in the face and getting deported.

Like today. I don’t know whether it’s that the school director (who, despite what you are about to read, I actually really like) and I just don’t understand each others’ version of English, or that things are done so differently here that I can’t catch on to them, or that I really am an afterthought when it comes to informing staff of changes to the schedule and so on, but it’s incredibly frustrating. I learned very quickly that I had to ask very carefully-worded questions, preferably rephrasing them several times, in order to get the information I required from her. But sometimes, even that doesn’t seem to stop misunderstandings from arising.

Today, the children are having graduation photos taken. Yes, graduation. From kindergarten. Don’t get me started. Just keep to your schedule as normal, said Jennifer this morning – not directly to me, obviously, but through a colleague bearing a post-it. When you hear the announcement, come down with the children.

Fine. Obviously my first class at 9.50am didn’t turn up, having received completely different information than me, so rather than walk into their homeroom and end up looking like an idiot as has happened before, I went down to check with Jennifer that I understood the situation correctly. Ah, she said when she saw me, we will have teacher group photo at 10am, please come down then. I processed this new information. So, I said very slowly and carefully, holding up the class workbook, I will teach them as normal, now… but only for ten minutes? She nodded. I will go to them, I will teach for ten minutes (fingers were held up as a back-up), and then I will come down here at 10 for a photo? She nodded. Yes, yes, she said in the way she always does regardless of whether she knows what’s just been asked.

I raced up to my class, who were happily watching a movie or something with their teacher, and explained to a chorus of groans that we were going to have an English lesson instead. By the time everyone got their books and were all on the same page and ready to start, it was about 3 minutes to 10.  I raced through a couple of pages, and then said OK…. I’ve got to go… photo… I don’t know when or if I’ll be back… sorry” and left them all looking utterly confused.

Not as confused as Jennifer, who looked blankly at me when I hurtled into the office and said I was sorry I was a little late for the photo. Don’t you have a class now? she asked.

Arrrrrghhhhhh!!! I screamed, slamming my hand down on her desk and stamping my feet like a child having a temper tantrum. No, not really. That would have been lovely though. Instead, I looked equally blankly at her and said carefully, so there is no photo at 10?

No, says she, we will call you after lunch for photo. I gazed wordlessly at her before dashing back up to my class, just in time to see the last child put away his book and join the others in front of the TV to recommence watching their movie after their 3-minute English lesson. I’m still not entirely sure that I was meant to be there, and I’m pretty sure the kids hate me and their teacher thinks I’m an idiot, since I disrupted their lazy morning twice and couldn’t explain anything to them. Not that I would have been able to explain the situation even if I could speak their language.

So then my next class also fails to turn up, and I go to get them, finding them unusually reluctant to come with me. I am just ushering the last protesting child out through the door, clutching an armful of books, when one of the children comes running along the corridor, followed by Jennifer, who has been fetched to explain to me that these kids are having their photos taken now. But… but… you told me normal schedule… I splutter, utterly exasperated and feeling more and more foolish by the moment – even the kids know what’s going on. Sorry, she says with an equally confused look, as if I’m the one messing everything up, do you have a class now? Which one?

THIS ONE!!!!! I practically howl, overwhelmed by a strong urge to laugh hysterically or hit her. No, not now, she says mildly, turning her attention to the children. The room is filled with Korean conversation. Once again I have no idea what’s going on. I drop the pile of books on the nearest desk with only slightly less aggression than I would like, and storm upstairs to my classroom, where I mutter dark threats to the wall and wonder if anyone would even notice my absence if I left school, went to the shop, bought cigarettes, and sat in the rain and chain-smoked.

Everyone else always seems to know what’s going on. Why don’t I? What else can sentences like “come down at 10am” and “keep to your schedule as normal” possibly mean? Why must I always end up looking like an eejit? Why can’t I learn to interpret Konglish? Why can’t someone just say “I don’t understand what you mean?” or “no, you’ve got that wrong”, instead of going “yes, yes” at everything?

I took a short break in the middle of writing this post to go have lunch. At the end of said meal, Jennifer leaned across the table to me and said Did you give David (one of my elementary class children) homework? Front pages? I looked blankly at her. His mother she call me and say he has no homework. You know, front pages?

I continued to look blankly at her. For a start, this “front pages” business made as much sense to me as it does to you reading about it now, having had no previous information about it. This is what statements and questions here are like about 95% of the time, random words and phrases that I am apparently expected to understand, and I am the slowest in the world at figuring out the real meaning, so I just end up staring dumbly or stammering confusedly. Secondly, this was all being asked in a tone of voice that could well have been used were she actually saying “David’s mother is complaining about you because you did not give him the front pages homework that I specifically told you to give him. Why are you disobeying my direct orders?”.

I began summoning up the last remaining dregs of my sanity and patience, and started carefully asking what she was talking about, at which point a Korean teacher breezed in, planted herself between us, and just started jabbering away loudly to Jennifer. It was as if I wasn’t even there. I’m pretty sure that she heard English, thought “Oh, well, those are just nonsensical words, that can’t be a real conversation!” and decided to treat it as such. I sat there open-mouthed for a second, and then just got up with clenched fists and walked out. I slammed my classroom door so loudly that it echoed along the whole corridor and down two flights of stairs.

I know that it now seems to you like I’m losing it at really small things, but you have to understand that this is pretty much every day. Every day, I’m given the wrong information or none at all, every day I’m looked at as if I’m insane, every day I’m talked over and interrupted simply because my colleagues seem to be genuinely incapable of hearing English conversation, every day I’m thrown into some sort of confusing incident.

And every day I laugh, ignore it, say “never mind!” and go on with a bright smile. I’ve been learning to stop taking things personally, because if I’d been taking everything to heart in the way that I used to, I would probably have had a nervous breakdown at least a month ago. I no longer go home and dwell on hurtful comments or annoying incidents or ridiculous misunderstandings, partly because I know that it’s a cultural thing and not a personal thing, and partly because there are so many every day that if I did dwell on them, I would have no time left for anything else. So I’ve become very good at instantly dismissing matters from my mind and moving on with a laugh.

Well, screw that. Today, I am hormonal and  it is the wrong damn day for so many insanely stupid incidents to occur. I am bloody well going to go home and cry tonight, and possibly kick some sturdy items of furniture, and maybe also pour myself a stiff drink even though it’s only Wednesday. There is no sodding Cadbury’s chocolate in this stupid town, and they won’t change my work computer’s language to English for me, and my neighbours have sex far too loudly, and and my hair is all in my eyes and I can’t go for a haircut for fear of what might be the result of a linguistic misunderstanding there.

Wow, I needed that. Normal service will resume post-PMS. Thanks for listening.

Coppee Helps

Today was the third Monday in January, the date that was, a few years back, officially deemed to be the most depressing day of the year.

You know what? I had a pretty good day!

One major plus point over the last week or so has been that I finally have Real Coffee. I’m sure you can imagine how very depressing it was for me to come over to Korea and discover that they’re just not that into coffee here. They’d tell you that they are, but I beg to differ. There is no way that those dozens and dozens of different “instant mix” drinks they have here should ever get away with being called coffee. It’s sweet and creamy and bleurgh, with a vague hint of coffee flavour that you have to really concentrate to identify. NOT COFFEE. In desperation, I even tried to separate the white powder from the brown granules in one sachet, in what turned out to be a rather messy operation, hoping that that would at least remove the sweetness and creaminess, leaving me with only the vague hint of coffee flavour. Instead, to my dismay and sorrow, it left me with what I can only describe as pale brown flavourless water.

Alex laughed at me when I woefully told him of my experiment. Erm, yeah… I think the brown stuff is just the colouring, to be honest, he said with a totally unsympathetic grin.

He redeemed himself somewhat by going to Home Plus (the major Korean department store) with me, where we hunted out The Real Thing. Apparently my exhaustion and slowly dissipating will to live was no longer as funny to watch as it was disturbing. Anyway, I actually cried out in real joy when I saw the coffee makers and grinders. I then fell to my knees in silent gratitude right in the middle of the coffee aisle when I saw a limited but sufficient display of Real Coffee (or coppee – 커피- as it’s called here). They had the Tesco coffee range! Tesco might have a reputation as the budget shopping choice, but boy do they know how to make coffee. I bought 2 kilograms of beans and ground coffee, a grinder, and two coffee makers (one for home, one for my desk at work), and returned home singing and dancing. All has been well ever since. Colleagues have actually remarked upon my newfound energy and sudden ability to jump from one subject to the next without waiting for anyone else to catch up. I am back!

Not only that, but things are generally good, workwise. I’ve planned what I think is a pretty good module for my drama/music class, complete with songs and games and colourful powerpoint presentations; Alex and I each got our two elementary classes combined into one big group and then split in half according to ability, which means that we each now have one class of students of roughly the same ability, making it much easier to keep everybody working at the same pace; there’s a new Korean English teacher who actually speaks fluent English and seems to be the sort of girl I’ll get on with really well; and also, the English Show is over and I finally went back to just being a teacher today rather than a babysitter at the end of her tether, trying to practise lines with individual students while attempting to somehow keep the other 11 quiet and/or entertained. My classes today were fun, fast-paced, and full of lots of good questions and answers from the kids.

Would it be a little over-dramatic to say that it’s all because of coffee? Probably. But I can’t help but feel that I wouldn’t have been so completely immune to the effects of the most depressing day of the year had I not reintroduced caffeine to my blood stream.

Coppee Helps.

Bloggers for Haiti – more than words.

Although I’m known for being a bit of an emotional character, the thing that first caused tears to well up in my eyes as I read about the horror that is Haiti at the moment was a seemingly emotion-free sentence in an article about the aid effort.

The neighboring Dominican Republic was the first country to give aid to Haiti, easing tensions that have existed between the two countries since the 19th century.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it lacks the heartstring-tugging, overused clichés of most media stories about the situation, it touched me more than anything else I’ve read. If you know me at all, you’ll be aware that I don’t have much respect for or interest in the kindergarten-style playground bickering and sulking that goes by the name of politics and/or nationalism. I can’t stand the kind of national pride that manifests itself in the form of racism, sectarianism, bigotry, threats, and power-hunger-driven wars. I’m the dippy hippy who sits in the corner making daisy chains, listening to trippy music, and wailing “but we’re all the same, deep down!”.

So when I read something about a person or a group or a nation who seems to see the light and set aside all the crap stuff for the sake of something truly important, it invariably gives me a lump in my throat. I automatically read that sentence I quoted as something like this:

Little Boy A, upon seeing Little Boy B bleeding to death at the side of the street after having had the shit kicked out of him by an entire army of trained soldiers, suddenly forgot about all the wedgies and the name-calling and the fist-fights and the stolen trading cards and the broken toys and the slanderous graffiti and the numerous kicks and bruises dealt and received by both parties, and ran to help his former enemy as if they were brothers. Which, actually, they were.

Alright, alright, I’ve got an overactive imagination and am far too sentimental to ever be an objective reporter. I just like to see that human solidarity trumps national solidarity. And it made me think of my own country – even just my own home town – and wonder whether there, too, all the silliness would be dropped in favour of reaching out to other human beings in the event of tragedy and disaster. I have a feeling that it would. I certainly hope that it would.

So, if the Dominican Republic can rush to its neighbour’s aid in spite of 200-odd years of bitterness and bickering, the rest of the world should have no hesitation in adding to the aid effort. And it doesn’t. Have any hesitation, I mean. However horrifying and devastating this disaster is, isn’t there just a tiny glimmer of hope for this warring, dying, bickering, somewhat ridiculous planet of ours when people are falling over themselves to help in whatever ways they can?

If you haven’t found a good way to contribute to the worldwide rescue mission yet, take a look-see at this post by English Mum, where she explains about the Bloggers For Haiti page. She’s hoping to collect enough money to send one of those ShelterBoxes… but I’ll let her tell you about it. It’s a really practical, yet easy way to help.

And as Grandad mentioned, it’s worth a lot more to people who’ve lost everything than sticking a ribbon on your Twitter page. Or joining some Facebook group. Sheeeeeeesh.